On October 29, 2008, when the Washington Wizards and the New Jersey Nets played their first game of the season against one another, Devin Harris seemed to be an afterthought. He sat in his locker alone before the game; he conducted his pregame shootaround ritual without a reporter requesting his time. During the game he scored 13 points and had 5 assists in 31 minutes, but he never really influenced the outcome. At the end of the game, he got dressed in peace, as reporters focused on his Nets teammates, Vince Carter and Jarvis Hayes.
When Harris stepped in Verizon Center this past Wednesday, prior to the Nets 115-88 blowout victory over the Washington Wizards, it was a completely different story.
When Harris was trying to do his pregame shooting ritual, he had several reporters vying for his time. During the game, Harris had 26 points, seven assists, and five rebounds in the same 31 minute span he had played on opening day, and he very much controlled the tempo. After the final buzzer, Harris had at least 10 journalists (including yours truly) waiting for him to finish getting dressed, so they could ask him questions about his dominating performance.
The difference? Confidence.
Harris is averaging 21.5 points and 6.5 assists a game this season, including a 47 point outburst against the Phoenix Suns in November. He recently earned an All-Star reserve nod, and he’s done his best to make the Dallas Mavericks regret trading him to the Nets for Jason Kidd.
The Wizards were the latest in a string of teams that Harris has dominated on both ends of the floors, and this was not lost on Nets head coach Lawrence Frank.
“Devin had a great command of the game and he locked down on the defensive end, ” Frank commented. “He was in attack mode from the beginning. He was living in the paint, whether it was in transition, pick and rolls, and when you really look at the first half, he was the only guy who had it going in that first half, and he kind of carried with those 19 points. In the second half, his pick and roll play not only set things up for him, but more importantly we swung the ball, and got those hockey assist type passes..I just thought he had great control of the game.”
Rookie center Brook Lopez, who had a double-double with 12 points and 12 rebounds, and who is averaging 12 points and 8 rebounds for the season, has also benefited greatly from Harris’ play.
“Devin just makes things so much easier, ” Lopez said right after the game. “He’s impossible to guard and keep out of the lane, and once he gets in there, he’s either going to score, get the ball to a roller, or kick it out for an open jumper, so he has so many options.”
Harris, like a true point guard, returned the favor, by complimenting Lopez’s play.
“Brook opened up a lot of stuff the way he’s getting to the lane and finishing, and the way guys are shooting the last couple of games frees up a lot of the paint for me and makes my job a lot easier, ” Harris said.
Prior to Harris’ emergence as a superstar, this was Vince Carter’s team. The Nets relied on him to score, be a leader and provide excitement to the team, especially when Kidd was traded. The fact that Harris has played so well and consistently is not lost on the 31-year-old Carter.
“Man, he makes my job very easy,” Carter told Hoops Addict with a broad grin. “I don’t have to score and I’m not worried about having to put up big numbers every night.”
When I asked Carter what the main difference was in Harris’ game, he traced the difference all the way back to last summer.
“He’s playing with a lot of confidence and coming into last summer, he believed that he could make a significant impact on this team, ” Carter explained to Hoops Addict. “He said he wanted to help and he wanted to be a leader, and more specifically he wanted to lead this team to a higher level, and its just great to see that.”
Never was that leadership of Harris on display more than it was after the Wizards/Nets game was over. Harris spoke on the importance of getting back to playing well.
“We just wanted to get off to a good start and we wanted to try and get back to our transition game we were running earlier in the season, whether that’s me going coast-to-coast or running drags and getting into an open offense, ” the baby-faced Harris said at his locker right after the game. “We really have been slacking on that the last three weeks or so, but we want to make a conscious effort of really back in our transition game.”
Harris also made some keen observations about the Washington Wizards.
“They played hard throughout the game. Obviously they are having some struggles on the defensive end right now, with their rotations and how to guard screen and rolls and what not. They are a young team; they’re playing the young guys right now, so you can sense a little bit of that.”
The New Jersey Nets have a tough stretch ahead of them in the next five games. They play Denver, Orlando, San Antonio, Houston and finally Jason Kidd and the Dallas Mavericks. All five would be playoff teams if the season ended today, and they have a combined winning percentage of 67%. Considering the Nets are currently one game behind the Milwaukee Bucks for that eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference, this stretch could possibly go a long way in determining their future.
Still, the confidence Harris has in himself and his teammates is not diminished.
“I’d rather be going the way we’re playing now into those stretches. Obviously, we’re feeling good about ourselves, guys are feeling confident, our young guys are really stepping up right now, so we’ll see what happens.”
That’s exactly the kind of confidence you’d expect an All-Star point guard to have.